Dismissing-avoidant pattern of attachment and mimicry reactions at different levels of information processing

Marianne Sonnby-Borgström, Peter Jönsson

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55 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals with a dismissing-avoidant pattern of attachment are assumed to repress anxiety-related signals, a disposition hypothesized to interfere with facial mimicry and emotional contagion. Further, they are assumed to have one internal working model associated with anxiety, operating out of awareness at early, automatic stages of information processing, and another positive model operating at later, cognitively controlled stages of processing. The main aim of the present investigation was to compare facial mimicry in dismissing-avoidant and non-dismissing subjects at different levels of information processing. Pictures of happy and angry faces were exposed to 61 subjects at three different exposure times (17, 56, and 2,350 ms) in order to elicit facial muscle reactions, first at automatic levels and then at a more controlled levels. Corrugator activity ("frowning muscles") represented negative emotions and zygomaticus activity ("smiling muscles") positive emotions. The dismissing-avoidant subjects scored significantly lower on emotional empathy than the non-dismissing subjects. At the automatic level the dismissing-avoidant subjects showed "normal" corrugator responses (negative emotions) upon exposure to angry faces. At the cognitively controlled level of processing (2,350 ms) a significant interaction effect was shown between Faces x Muscles x Attachment pattern. The dismissing-avoidant subjects showed no corrugator response and an increased zygomaticus response ("smiling reaction") to the angry face, whereas the non-dismissing subjects reacted with a significant mimicking reaction. The dismissing-avoidant subjects' tendency to "smiling" in response to the angry face at the controlled level (2,350 ms) may be interpreted as a repression of their earlier, automatically evoked (56 ms) negative emotional reaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages10
JournalScandinavian Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Psychology (501)


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